According to the Bible, death is best understood as another experience of birth. When our lives began, we lived in the narrow confines of our mothers’ bodies. We developed our capacities of hearing and seeing which could not be used in that place. Then we were born, dying in a small sense of that word, but at the same time thrust into a larger realm of life.
Now we are developing capacities which are not fully exhausted in this brief life-love for God and others. Death will bring us, if we are God’s children, into a still larger experience of life. John wrote, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we will see him as he is” (I John 3:2).
We all will die. But death is another experience of birth for the Christian. We emerge in the other world in the care and keeping of God. The really important death for each of occurs during this physical life when we die to sin and become alive to God. Paul wrote, “How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:2-4).
With our trust in God, we allow ourselves to be buried in baptism, as Jesus was buried in the tomb.
Then we are brought forth into the new, more wonderful Christian life. Later, physical death means only a change in our environment and is relatively unimportant. Paul described Jesus as the one “who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (II Tim.1:10).
About A.D. 125, Aristides, a Greek writer, explained to a friend the success of a new religion he had become acquainted with: “If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God and they escort his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”
As Death Approaches
Perhaps you have had the experience of calming a small child who was afraid of the dark. The child’s perceptions of the shadows can change remarkably when a loving parent stands by to give assurance that no harm will come. The faithful promise of the parent gives the child the peace of mind to face the darkness. It is the same way with us. We too face the shadow of fear caused by death. Because we trust the One who has conquered death, we can face the future with the confidence that we will not be harmed. Our real assurance, as death approaches, rests on the character of God, and on the teachings, the promises, and the example of Jesus.
Roland Perdue, in a manuscript meaningfully titled “I Will Die But Death Will Never Hold Me,” tells this story: During a night of fire bombing (in the days of the Blitz of London) a father and his small son ran from their burning house. Seeking some form of shelter, the father jumped into a shell hole in the yard and then he held up his arms for his son to follow. But the small boy, hearing the father’s voice urging him to jump, replied, ‘But I can’t see you.’ The father could see the child outlined against the night sky and the flickering flames, and he answered, ‘But I can see you. Jump.’
The faith by which and in which we live and which enables us to conduct our living and dying with dignity is not that we can see, but that we are seen; not that we can know without doubt, but that we are known by the God who is Lord of us in both our living and in our dying. For nothing can separate us from his love.”
“Be Ye Also Ready”
The Christian is so in tune with spiritual things and so intimate with the Lord that he neither fears nor dreads death. Each of us should strive to live in a state of readiness in case the end should come suddenly. When Christ was on the earth, he admonished his disciples, “. . . you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect” (Matt. 24:44). A little later he added, “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt.25:13).
This means, of course, that we need to have not only the superficial elements of our lives ready if the end should come suddenly, but also the deeper things. It is fine to have all of our business and personal things in good shape, but it is infinitely more important for our souls to be ready to meet God in judgment.
This means that we must have become children of God, in the manner prescribed in the New Testament, and that we must be living faithful, obedient lives, serving God and our fellow men.
The ideal is to believe early in life that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God and to decide to follow Christ. This means repentance, or turning away from the world and its sin; this means the confession of Christ before men; this means obedience to the Lord’s command to be baptized. Then it means living as Christ lived-in purity and in concern for the needs of others.
While it is ideal to begin early in life, it is never too late to begin. One is never too old to have a genuine desire to follow Christ and to be willing to obey him. The only ultimate tragedy of life is to die outside of Christ. What a blessing to know that not one of us need be lost.
Christ died that we might live, and invites us to come to him and to share eternal life in heaven. As the Christian faces death, he may well remember the words of the poet John Milton, “[Death is the] golden key that opens the palace of Eternity.”